Reflection on Teaching Presentation

Well, first of all, thank everyone for being so participative! I’m sure my 8th graders will be just as receptive (*snicker*). In any case, I’m glad to say that I have finished my presentation! And I hardly remember any of it…

I tend to do that when I get nervous: the whole experience becomes a total blur. But I will at least spell my process out for you!

I chose this piece because I have a fear of teaching Poe. I adore Poe; he’s one of my favorites, but I’m always nervous about treating morbid subjects with kids. I think they should be treated, and I think they should read Poe, but it still makes me anxious. So, I decided to do a Poe piece to sort of stretch my teaching abilities.

The work we read this semester that most inspired me was Blau. I thought his ideas were truly the best ways to get students understanding and interpreting literature; however, his techniques were geared toward college-age students, and I teach middle-schoolers, so I tried to pare down some of his ideas as best I could for my presentation/lesson plan.  A few of the ideas I used were reading together in class, using the “jump in technique” (which I have started using in my classes with some hesitation, but I have found to work extraordinarily well; it’s my new favorite way to read as a group), discussing interpretations with classmates, and allowing the students to come to interpretations on their own. I have been trying this year to stay out of the conversation as much as possible, only jumping in to restate a student’s assertion for clarification or to correct a mistaken assumption.

I also pulled from Salvatori. I liked the idea of having students “write through” difficulty, though I thought the difficulty papers might be a bit much for them. So instead, I decided to have them re-read, using a double-column notebook (something many are familiar with) to note difficulties and possible solutions. This way, it shows the student is engaged with the text by noting where they lack understanding, and trying to engage in a conversation with themselves to achieve understanding. Then, I thought a la Blau, they could share these difficulties in groups to try and help each other come to a richer understanding of the text.

Finally, I capped it with the group discussions on literary terms to help cement the various literary terms and their applications in their minds. Though, in retrospect, I think I worded some of the questions badly, and I think I could have posed better questions. But I’m not sure if that’s me being self-conscious. Any feedback there?

Someone asked me about the homework assignment at the end of class, and I forgot to mention how long I would ask them to make it: I would say about 1 1/2 pages, typed, double spaced. I would not count this as a formal essay paper, and so I would not require it to be as formal as an academic essay. I would look more for ideas and the way they present the point of view (accuracy and creativity) than the formal language; though I would, of course, check for proper grammar. In any case, I hope you enjoyed my presentation and remember more of it than I do… 🙂

8 thoughts on “Reflection on Teaching Presentation

  1. Tim

    When I saw Poe’s “Cask…” was on the list for Wed. night I was excited, but when you explained it was for 7th and 8th graders I was a bit shocked. The amount of context involved for such an audience was daunting, but then you did such a good job of skirting or “paring down” the issues by putting the story in the context of revenge that I could see how it could work. After all, what student of that “tender” age hasn’t had a desire for revenge? Whether it is bricking somebody up in a catacomb or spreading rumors on facebook, the desire for retribution is ageless, even if the motives are obscure.

    I normally avoid using videos in class, but I would have started out with Mario Cavalli’s wonderful 35mm short adaption first ( ) so that they could visualize the horror of the story immediately – much more shocking this way. The video lacks some of the subtle details of Poe’s telling, but you could back into all the nuances of the perceived (or not!) insults, Fortunado’s drunkenness, the dankness of the cellars, the nitre, etc. Using the video would do away with the necessity of setting the scene, etc. and leave you with more time to discuss motives.

    Of course you may have to explain to your principal why your student’s couldn’t sleep for a week; but to me, that’s what Poe is all about!

  2. esadler Post author

    Interesting….I’ve never seen that clip before. Thank you for the suggestion (and clip)!

    I think that’s where part of my nervousness in teaching Poe comes from…I’m scared to have parents asking why I would teach Poe to their sweet, innocent child; on the other hand, Poe is in the 8th grade literature book, and I remember studying him in 7th grade, so I know he is taught in middle schools, and I should worry about the parents so much….Thank you for your comment! 🙂

  3. Professor Sample

    The question of how much context to provide can be a vexing one (as evidenced by Blau’s long balancing act in The Literature Workshop).

    There’s no easy formula to use, but in general I think you have to measure the readers’ life experiences against the possible unfamiliarity of the text’s historical and cultural context. So, 8th graders would be far less likely to be familiar with the topsy-turvy world of carnival (unless they grew up in New Orleans or the Caribbean) than college students (for whom spring break can be an apt metaphor for carnival).

    Yet at the same time, some other equally historically distant story (say Romeo and Juliet) might actually require less context to understand (though of course the vocabulary and syntax pose other challenges).

    In the case of Poe, what would really be interesting would be to read several of his most famous short stories and then ponder why none of them are actually set in Poe’s own milieu. Most of them them take place in Europe: Italy, Germany, France, and England. So in some ways, our students are in the same position as Poe’s original American audiences, reading about cultural and historical contexts that would only be vaguely familiar to them. That contextual gap assumes different meanings for Americans in the 1840s than Americans in the 2010s.

  4. Alicia

    For me, it was fun to see you adapt this story to a younger audience. I thought you did a really good job of pointing out moments when you might get a less-than-astute response from the kids or when our experience as adults might lead us more quickly to a meaningful conclusion. Such moments happen in high school, too – especially in struggling schools where literacy is not very good. That’s the real classroom for you!

    I would never question teaching Poe at any age, actually. I’d be surprised if even the helicopter parents would – does anyone disagree? Maybe I have had too much experience with the absent parent and not enough with the micromanaging type.

    I thought, with your audience in mind, that the double-column note taking method was a great idea.

    My only question – and I really throw this out for discussion – is whether or not the fact that drunkenness is so key to this story makes it suboptimal for younger kids? Of course, the sad fact is that many of them are probably quite familiar with the effects of alcohol – from movies if not (we hope) from real life. But, then, kids nowadays are horribly savvy and maybe they would catch right on. I’m not talking from a moral perspective – more from the perspective of ability to unpack the text. Insight?

    I will say that my old students would have caught RIGHT on to the revenge part! Nobody is more obsessed with avenging insults than a high schooler in a rough neighborhood. This story would have worked really well with my group from Boston. “Yo, you can’t be takin’ no crap from haters, Miss.”

    Great job all around and really enjoyed it!

  5. abbie

    Beth —-
    I think the group-think on literary terms was a good idea, and you choose excellent terms. I can’t remember my group’s question word-for-word, but I do remember that we weren’t confused by it at all. Can’t speak from an 8th grade POV, though (or can I?), or for the other groups.

    RE: Alicia’s point on drunkenness — I hadn’t even thought of that, but maybe there’s something to it. I guess you could just go on the notion that they are “not feeling well,” or something, but I do think the case would likely be that 1/2 your class would really get it (the drunkenness), and the other 1/2 wouldn’t. Something to consider, but I don’t think it necessarily makes the text inappropriate for that grade.

  6. afaye

    I’m with Abbie on the literary terms exercise. I enjoy the situated reinforcement doubled with the group work. I also can’t remember what my group’s question was, but I remember enjoying the ability to really engage in social construction and debate with my group over our inconclusive answer. The group is a safe way to try out different wordings of questions, too, so even if group discussion falls a little short you can hover between groups to catch questions. I really enjoyed this exercise and participating in your lesson! Thanks for the vocabulary hand-out!

  7. Susan

    To me, choosing an audience seems tough for certain literature, so I understand your anxiety of presenting Poe to 7th or 8th graders; however, you shouldn’t be nervous because you did well. Because of time constraints, I think you hit on narrator reliability for your main objective in class. With more class time, you may have been able to get to learning about the author, foreshadowing, and word meaning (as you would with the etymology worksheet for prep-homework). The journal pre-writing was age appropriate and relevant to the story.
    I wonder if there is more of an activity that can go along with the E.Q. Who was Edgar Allen Poe? I feel at this age level creativity could come into play. The lit term activity felt similar yet different to the Ivanhoe activity. I think you could also consider doing a more direct Ivanhoe activity by assigning each student a character to alter the story with (although, you suggest some of this with your follow-up homework of rewriting the story from Forunato’s point of view.) You did a great job of compacting several activities in a short period.

  8. Lindsay

    I agree with some of the others that I was initially surprised that this lesson was designed for 7th graders, because I think there is so much to Poe that younger students may not “get.” But then I got to thinking, and I definitely had to read Poe in 6th and 7th grade. You did an excellent job of working through the theme of revenge with your students, which is certainly a theme they would understand and could work with. I also think that the vocab assignment would be really helpful for young students who may not be apt to look up words that they don’t know. As for the discussion about providing cultural context, I think it is definitely appropriate in this case, when your students, as you pointed out, really have not had much exposure to literature/culture from the 1800s and before. I didn’t get a chance to look at the clip that Tim provided, but I think for younger students, it would be so helpful for them to be able to visualize the macabre aspect of Poe’s story. Oh, I also loved the lit term activity and I think the homework of rewriting the story in Fortunato’s POV is perfect! Excellent job!

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